Posting in Energy
An influx of electric or hybrid vehicles will create the greatest disruption to the power grid since the onset of air conditioning.
There's no question that a large-scale movement to hybrid and electric vehicles is a great way to wean ourselves off oil, and onto cleaner modes of transport. And most, if not all, major auto manufacturers are engaged in this new market.
However, in the process, all these electric and hybrid cars may dramatically increase our reliance on another fuel source -- a stable electric grid. And the power grid, as it exists today, may not quite be ready to handle this new surge in load.
In a new analysis out of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, Les Poch and Matt Mahalik of Argonne’s Center for Energy, Environmental, and Economic Systems Analysis (CEEESA) says if demand for plug-ins skyrockets, a flood of new electric cars could strain America’s power networks to the limit.
“Depending on what Americans do with their new cars, energy suppliers could be overwhelmed—or they could stand to gain a lot,” Poch says.
Mahalik adds that "until now, the pattern of power use in the U.S. has been relatively stable and predictable for the past 30 years,” says Mahalik. “The last major bump was probably the widespread adoption of air conditioning.”
Electric vehicles stand poised to throw off that stable pattern. At this point, the researchers say, "No one knows how quickly electric cars will catch on, in what areas they’ll be most popular, or when everyone will choose to plug in their cars."
That's why there's even greater urgency to adopt a smart grid approach for electricity consumption, the researchers advocate. “The smart grid proposes to reorganize the way power is used in the home and how it is distributed,” says Ted Bohn, an electrical engineer at Argonne’s Center for Transportation Research.
The smart grid approach to electric vehicles would work along these lines:
"In the home, electric vehicles and all major appliances would be connected to a central hub that monitors how much electricity they use. The hub in turn would 'talk' to local power suppliers. All of these appliances and the grid would talk to each other and could also share power.... The communication between vehicles, appliances and the grid allows suppliers to track electricity use in real-time. With that information, more utilities could vary the price of power by time of day and create incentives for consumers to use electricity at certain times...."
This also begs the question: will brownouts or blackouts mean there will be fewer cars on the road during the outage period? Will it mean reduced mobility during critical times when power is knocked out, such as during hurricanes or other weather events?
Apr 14, 2010
Its safe to assume most of the cars will be recharged over night. Generally speaking, that represents the time of lowest demand on the grid, so the power is being supplied by base load plants. For most of the country, thats coal or nuclear handsdown. So we'll essentially have either coal burning or fission powered cars.
These are the discussions that need to take place at a higher, more public level, IMO. I have not heard many discussions about this from a public policy standpoint. The fact is there is always 2 sides to an equation. I have not seen a comparison of cost of gas vs. cost of electricity to charge my car. Yes, you will save money by not paying for gas. But what will be the increase in power bill? The idea of balancing the load by eliminating refining is short-sighted. The increased need of fuel for the power plants will likely keep some sort of refining in place. It will go to the plant, instead of to the gas station. It is amusing how the environmental types are so short-sighted. They are so passionate about one side of the equation and do not see the larger effect. CFL bulbs are a great example and electric cars are another. The upside seems so cool - bulbs that use much less power and cars that don't need gas. But the downsides are pretty bad - mercury in the ground water for the bulbs and caustic/toxic battery waste and increased use of coal and oil by the needed increase in power plant power output. If the goal is to only have all-electric cars, there will certainly be an increased power plant load needed. Those in charge need to start planning for that and start giving licenses to build nuclear power plants. France has proven it can be done safely. Certainly in 21st century America, where we have email and the web at our finger tips, we can do even better. That will give us the alternative power source to wean us off of foreign oil.
First there is alot of excess capacity in many parts of the grid at night when the A/C and lighting loads are lower. That won't solve everything but it should be part of the discussion. Second, refining gasoline takes electricity and not a trivial amount. Nissan is saying it takes about 7.5KW to produce a gallon. Even if it's half that you are not creating an entirely new load on the grid - you are reducing consumption from one source and adding consumption from another. If Nissan is correct and 7.5KW is what it takes to make a gallon and cars like the Volt can go 40 miles on 8KW then you should see a net reduction in electricity consumption since as long as the car you are replacing got LESS than 37.5 MPG you will net out to a reduction in load on the grid.
When power grids get stretched, most utilities will kick in their natural gas units, the coal units already running at max. So if electric cars represent incremental power usage, they will probably be running off of natural gas, which can be only a third as costly in terms of carbon as coal. Most electric cars could also come with a timer option. You plug in your car when you pull into your garage, but it doesn't start charging until the wee hours of the night. There could also be a manual override when you know you gotta have it recharged now. Most homes will have smart meters soon which will enable paying for electricity by time-of-day. You don't need all the bells and whistles of the Smart Grid looking over your shoulder outlined in the article for homeowners to figure out it would be better to let their cars charge at night if they can.
What if the PUC cuts off power at night and my electric vehicle isn't charged up all the way? A rolling blackout may make me wheels go dark. If I have to take a cab to work, it would negate any cost savings for a year.
Soon you'll be told what appliances you can run at what times and what times you can run your AC or charge your car. Oh, and... not at the same time. Your TV will turn off when you plug your car in.
Yes coal is the major source. But it is not the ONLY source. And PHVs/EVs will give the owner the option of going off-grid (solar,wind) for self-generation. Not to mention the optionalble "green" sourced energy that many utilities provide. If a consumer is paying a premium for "Wind" power, then the utility will not be in a legal position to restrict the availability of power to said consumer if the wind is blowing. Doubtless it will be sorted out in the courts someday. In the meanwhile, incremental power generation needs to be greener, carbon-averse sources such as wind, tidal, nuclear, solar. I think the power planners have the memo already. As far as the road-use taxation issue is concerned, history has shown that when tax revenue drops because of increased efficiencies, either tax rates go up to compensate, or new methods of taxation are devised. Do not be surprised to see mileage-based taxation for personal use vehicles start to pop up if EVs become popular. The infrastructure is already in place for commercial vehicles in most states.
There is another thing that has not been adequately considered. EVs will be higher polluting than their gasoline counterparts. Consider, a gasoline car is sulev or lower, and often emits less pollution than in the air. An EV, adding load to an optimally balanced grid, will use electricity generated by the next most polluting source. This will be more polluting than the equivalent IC engine, as well as often using the same general carbon based fuel. Think about it. Does a rational person want to transition from a regulated and taxed fuel source (gasoline) to a less regulated and less taxed and more polluting source of fuel (coal generated electricity)? David